Local Spotlight: Nate Thomas and Nate Balko earn their Eagle Scout honor
Snowmass teens culminate decade-long commitment to scouts
Snowmass Village teens Nate Balko and Nate Thomas have been in the same scout troop for nearly a decade, working their way through the ranks from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts.
This year, they reached the highest ranks together, too: 16-year-old Balko and 15-year-old Thomas completed all the requisite components to achieve the Eagle Scout award.
“We’ve been in the troop together since we were in kindergarten, and we’ve been friends since kindergarten, and we were like, let’s do this together,” Thomas said. “And we decided to have our ceremony together and finish it together, because we’ve been in it together since we were so young, so we just finished it together. We got it on the same day.”
Though both achieved Eagle status in January, the pandemic meant a postponed official ceremony; that event finally took place earlier this month.
Becoming an Eagle Scout is no easy feat: the percentage of scouts who achieve the honor each year is in the single digits.
First, there’s the time commitment: Eagle Scouts must first progress through the ranks from a Tenderfoot to a Life Scout, which they’ll need to be for at least six months while holding a leadership position before earning the Eagle honor.
Then there are the 21 required merit badges to acquire in fields as wide-ranging as first aid, cooking, citizenship in the world and environmental science. Don’t forget the service project, either: Balko opted to make reusable bags to distribute to the community; Thomas worked with the Roaring Fork Bear Coalition to add clips to trash cans to keep bears out of trouble and out of the trash.
Add to that an extensive list of references that can attest that the applicant abides by the “Scout Oath and Scout Law,” participation in a Scoutmaster Conference and successful completion of a board review process and Thomas and Balko had quite the task to make it to Eagle Scout status.
Oh, and there’s a time limit, too; scouts must complete all the requirements other than the board review by the time they turn 18.
“I’d say it’s worth it — it opens up opportunities for you, you’re not going to get to do anything like it ever,” Thomas said. “You will never have the experiences there, and if you miss out on being an Eagle Scout, it’s not like you can do it again when you’re older. This is your one chance to do it.”
Even though they’ve reached the highest ranks in the system, Balko and Thomas don’t plan on saying a final goodbye just yet; they plan to continue to lend a hand with the troop, they said.
“It feels pretty good — I still want to help out, but it feels good that I accomplished it,” Balko said.
The commitment has been well worth it from Thomas and Balko’s perspective. There’s a benefit to the clout of the award when it comes to college and job applications, but there’s also personal growth that comes with sticking with the scouts for so long.
“I saw the benefits that came with it and how I could become a better citizen and learn more about the outdoors, and I just ended up enjoying it a lot,” Balko said.
There are memorable moments, too; Balko and Thomas look fondly on a backpacking trip where they tackled dozens of miles near the Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, New Mexico.
But those memories are ones that fewer and fewer young adults are experiencing, according to Thomas.
“It seems like the program is, in the U.S., is kind of dying. But I think I can help out,” Thomas said.
His own cohort is about a third of the size that it once was, according to Thomas. And in a way, that makes the Eagle Scout honor all the more precious, he said.
“It’s just like a dying breed, and I feel like at this point, if you can get your Eagle Scout before it ends up being over, then you’re going to be one of those last scouts known as an Eagle Scout, and you’ll — it’ll be kind of historic,” he said.
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While the number of bears in Aspen has been manageable so far this summer, a lack of natural food sources could change that as fall approaches.